In the final class of the Hamlet course I was in, we had a brief discussion on what I find to be one of the most interesting topics in an overall fascinating and highly enjoyable semester: Why is Hamlet so widely related to in so many different ways, and does this reflect more about ourselves than the play itself?
Obviously Hamlet is one of the most widely read pieces of literature in all of western culture. In this discussion it was put forth that we has a class had been particularly fixated on the ambiguity of the play, to which I responded that perhaps this is what grabs people. Perhaps the play simply captures some perfect level of ambiguity that allows for so many people to look into it and see a part of themselves that fascinates them, that implores them to superimpose themselves onto it. Hamlet gives us so many pieces to work with, so many tiny yet solid pieces to build off of with the ideas that preoccupy our own minds, which Hamlet so elegantly accommodates.
This is the point where my interpretation of this question, and of Hamlet himself, which has since progressed from what was said in class into what was pondered alone in a bedroom while plenty of more urgent matters remained unattended, starts to delve into the rabbit holes that even I can easily see as being a metaphor for my own mind. In a sense my interpretation of the appeal of Hamlet mirrors my interpretation of Hamlet, which in turn mirrors myself. This sounds a bit silly but we're talking about a work with a play based on itself contained within its own plot, so my very meta analysis is not entirely unprecedented in terms of its silliness.
Hamlet is, foremost, a student. He is interested in increasing his understanding of the world. This in itself should endear him to anyone who willingly reads a 400-year-old work of absurd academic acclaim. Hamlet is also selfish and inconsistent, which spreads that relatability out to include pretty much everyone. Hamlet, like all of us, has ideas about himself that to not always match up entirely with his actions. This is because people are often piss-poor at understanding themselves. This is dramaticized, as is often the case in at least a few points in our lives, by his circumstances.
Hamlet is caught in a situation which he does not fully understand nor wish to deal with, which is a kind of situation that provokes people to behave in ways that are self-serving and characterized by a dim understanding of what one actually wants to accomplish. Hamlet does not know what he wants, other than to not be dealing with the imposed desires of three parents, one of whom from beyond the grave, and a romantic relationship of questionable satisfaction. This makes his behaviour erratic and inconsistent as he deals with immediate problems using emotional responses, all the while forming his own logical narrative in order to attempt to understand himself. This tendency to stuff ones actions into a tidy narrative full of rationalizations is a method of dealing with the anxiety of not being fully in control of one's behaviour, and over the course of the story it can be seen to work only on the small scale; over the whole of the story inconsistencies in his behaviour crop up everywhere.
This is a very long way of saying that Hamlet is making things up as he goes along, perhaps even believing what he makes up, in order to deal with being very stressed out and confused about what he even wants. And this is why we can all look into a broody, inconsistent character and come out with an idea about him that not-so-subtly reflects ourselves: because we too often have a dim grasp of what it is we actually want, behave in manners to convoluted to think we understand without pushing key facts to the back of our minds until they become convenient for some new notion about who we are, and are selfish. Hamlet is ambiguous like we are ambiguous, open to interpreting whichever way we are inclined to feel about ourselves at any given moment. Hamlet is too convoluted in what he says and does to fully understand without picking out and focusing on key details, much like they way I feel about myself depends on which few aspects of my 21-year life are on my mind in the moment at hand.
When we interpret something, we do so in a way that reflects ourselves. This is how a connection is made between between our selves and the art. This is why when we read something, for the first time, second time, for the hundredth time, we are reading something that no one has ever read before, because we as people are inconsistent, fluctuating, and never fully aware of ourselves. This is what Hamlet shows us, that we are people who are constantly inventing ourselves as we go along, who remain entirely inconsistent in our actions, whose internal concerns colour the way we interpret the world around us, who have an understanding that strives for but will never reach completion.